Deciphering Data

In the 1984 movie “Moscow on the Hudson,” actor/comedian Robin Williams plays a Russian who recently defected to the U.S. In one scene he is shopping for the first time in an American grocery store and is so overwhelmed by the multitude of choices of coffee available that he becomes confused, dizzy and finally faints. While you may not faint, I would venture to say that you have, at times, been so overwhelmed by the timing and sheer volume of data you receive about your operation that fainting may seem to be the only option.

So what data do you really need to run a successful beverage operation, and where can you get it? Although there are times I long for an old hand-operated cash register that chimes each time a sale is made, a modern point-of-sale (POS) system can provide you with just about all the information you need.

A modern POS system can provide you with reports on gross sales, over-rings, voids, product mix (P-mix), an employee time clock, inventory control and about 50 other categories. Which data and reports are most important? Here are my picks, as well as picks from several well-known beverage managers for “must-have” data.

Gross sales data: This is probably the most common and useful report to which we have access. Knowing how much you sell is of paramount importance. Think of it as your report card: The report should be broken down into parts of the day — lunch, happy hour, dinner and late-night. Set up a schedule with your managers to run the reports at certain points throughout the day; at first you may want to run the reports hourly. Review the first two weeks’ reports and chart your sales and guest count, and you will notice patterns starting to emerge. You might see that you need to extend your happy hour. You might see that starting a late-night program too early is scaring off your dinner guests. No matter what patterns emerge, they are real; numbers don’t lie and it would be a mistake to ignore what they are telling you.

Tracy Finklang, corporate beverage manager for Louisville, Colo.-based Rock Bottom Restaurants, suggests using your day-part sales/guest report to help in managing labor. “These patterns assist our bar managers in scheduling,” she explains. “They watch for weekly and hourly patterns to help predict precisely when to begin certain shifts and when to cut them.”

P-mix data: Knowing what and how much you are selling helps in a number of ways. Just like the gross sales data, you should run the P-mix report by day part. Again, review the data and start charting what is selling and what is not. David Brown, vice president of operations support at Leawood, Kan.-based Houlihan’s Restaurants, recommends coming up with your top-selling drinks and comparing them to what you are promoting on your menus, table tents, coasters or whatever other POP you’re using. “If there are drinks that are being promoted but are not part of your top sellers, then consider making a switch, but always look to see what the gross profit is on that drink; you may not sell as many as you want to, but your profit per drink may warrant that drink stays on the menu,” Brown says.

Over-rings and voids: This report, coupled with a sales report by your bartender, will assist you with spotting employee theft. One of my favorite bar sayings is: “What do you get when you cross an elephant with a bartender? An elephant that steals.” Now, we know not all bartenders steal; however, the opportunities and temptations are very real and numerous in such a cash-dominated area as the bar.

The greatest deterrent to theft is the fear of getting caught, so it’s important to communicate to the bar staff that theft will not be tolerated. Bartenders are not your partners; they are your employees. Advise them and have them agree as a condition of employment that they will be subject to periodic unannounced “cash drawer” audits. Select a somewhat busy time — say, the middle of happy hour or the middle of the dinner rush. Why do this at peak times, when the bartender is needed behind the bar most? Because it is precisely at those times that a bartender who believes he or she has a system is most vulnerable to being caught, as there is no time to “balance” the cash drawer until after the rush. Run a sales report by bartender; the report should include any voids and over-rings. Have a backup cash drawer ready so an assistant manager can step in for the bartender being audited. The cash drawer should balance to the sales report, minus any over-rings and voids, to the penny. Being over is just as bad, if not worse, than being short. It means the bartender is not ringing drinks before or at the time of service (whichever is your policy). How you handle an “out of balance” cash drawer is up to you, but many times I have had to let the bartender go after an audit. It sends a strong message.

As you well know, there are a plethora of reports that you will be flooded with in the course of the day’s business. These three will serve you well as you wade through the wave of reports and information. Use them and you may just keep your head above water. NCB


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